Bringing Turkey into the 21st century with this education system?
The new academic year began full of problems and unknowns in Turkey, from suddenly changing exam systems to controversy over a major curriculum change.
Both Turkey’s high school entrance system and university entrance exam will change radically this year. Of course, there have been serious problems with these systems up to now, but the transition to new systems seems once again to be closed to debate or public discussion.
Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz confirmed on Sept. 19 that Turkey’s high school entrance exam (TEOG) will not be held this year, four days after a surprise statement from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he declared out of nowhere that “he hopes TEOG will be abolished immediately.” “The removal of the TEOG exam will clear the path for Turkey,” said Yılmaz. “Up to now we have treated our children as racehorses [due to the exam] … Now we want to bring Turkey into the 21st century.”
Millions of parents are thus facing yet another cloud of uncertainty, as the educational system has seen radical revisions almost five times in last 15 years under different ministers. Some parents have even opted to move abroad to offer their children an education of higher quality for a lower cost.
What’s more, it is highly questionable whether this new system will foster quality, especially considering the highly controversial new curriculum that seems to focus more on “values-based” education than raising critical, scientific and analytical thinkers (who are a must for a high-income economy).
According to an “Education at a Glance 2017” report by the OECD, Turkey is bottom of the table on the question of where tomorrow’s science professionals will come from, taking into account the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies.
A large proportion of tertiary students in Turkey study business, administration and law, although they are offered below-average employment prospects. According to the report, relatively few new entrants at tertiary and graduate level choose science-related fields of study.
In Turkey, only 18 of new entrants study STEM fields, compared to the average of 27 percent across OECD countries. Only 2 percent in Turkey of new entrants study natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, while another 2 percent study information and communication technologies (ICT), the second lowest share among OECD countries and far below the OECD averages of 6 percent and 5 percent respectively.
The country’s new curriculum has left evolution out and added the Islamic concept of “jihad” to textbooks, so this picture is likely to only get worse.
The most recent results of the international PISA education test, made public in December 2016, also revealed an escalation in educational problems in Turkey, which dropped from 44th spot to the 49th compared to the last test in 2012.
Turkey scored 420 points on the math test, placing it 49th out of 72 countries. Turkey was also 52nd in science and 50th in reading. Four years ago, Turkey was 43rd in science and 41st in reading.
Attempting to defend the country’s poor performance, Yılmaz said that out of 5,295 children who took the PISA test, some 38.1 percent were from regular Anatolian high schools, 36 percent were from vocational and technical high schools, and 14 percent were from vocational religious imam-hatip high schools. Noting that the share of Turkish students from science-based high schools was only 2.1 percent, he said that “if only science school students had taken the test, Turkey would have ranked third in the test.”
Change is certainly a must in our education system, but recent radical shifts will likely do more harm than good. It does not seem possible for Turkey to become a strong economy with this system in this century.